Growing up in Calcutta, my holidays followed a pattern. Summers were spent in Darjeeling and winters in Puri. It mattered that we were getting away. I didn’t ever concern myself with how far we went. When I was 13, though, my father announced we were going to Nepal. For the first time, I was leaving the country. I was, my sister reminded me, going abroad. Distance, suddenly, meant something. Kathmandu’s streets did not seem foreign, but its casinos certainly were. Strangely, I was allowed to gamble. I beat the dealer. I then won at blackjack. I was on a roll. I did not want to leave.
My sister grew concerned—“The way he signals for cards is not normal.” My mother tried to calm her. “We’ll be in the forest tomorrow. Trust me, he’ll forget.” It’s regrettable, but mothers do know better. We flew south the next morning, all the way to Chitwan National Park. I had never seen a forest before. I still remember how it smelt, how my glasses fogged up, how everything—including me—felt newly alive.
Established in 1964, the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge had earned itself quite the reputation for responsible travel by the mid-nineties. Sitting around a fireplace on our first night there, the resident naturalist told my sister, “Just three nights ago, a tiger had walked up to the very edge of our lodge.” The wild does make children of us all, but I found my 17-year-old Didi’s response to it particularly annoying. She demanded that our family of four stay in a single room. This meant I had to squeeze myself into a single bed she had monopolised. I was instructed to always be in her line of vision. She dug her nails into my hands when we went out on an elephant safari, and she held me close to her. I had never felt braver.
When we did come across a tiger, it was mauling a goat. My very vegetarian family looked away, while I watched transfixed. Blood dripped from its teeth. Its eyes were aflame. After a 15-minute gluttonous feast, the goat’s carcass was finally dragged away, presumably for seconds. My parents were concerned that I might have been scarred by what I had seen. The tiger’s violence, they felt, ought to have come with a PG rating. My glee, though, was palpable. I wanted to see more. The forest had humbled me with its excess. Its obvious beauty needed no theorising. The joys of wildlife, I found, were satisfyingly simple. In this issue, our writers try and capture that magnificence in places such as the Amazon, Masai Mara, Zambia, South Africa and Madhya Pradesh. Their dispatches seem like a collective plea for better conservation.
Even though my sister might be more impressed with our new section ‘The Focus’—we give you a guide to Europe—she will confess that seeing a tiger get away with murder is a holiday experience which defies forgetting.
never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.
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